As controversy from BullyGate swirls around them, Dolphins players also find themselves immersed in a playoff race.
The Dolphins awoke Monday tied for the AFC’s final playoff spot with the Jets, who own the tiebreaker at the moment because of a superior division record.
But here’s the bottom line: The Dolphins and Jets are the only teams that control their paths in the battle for the AFC’s second wild card spot. The teams, both 5-5, meet Dec. 1 in New Jersey and Dec. 29 in Miami to close the season.
“We’ve got a chance and that’s all you want,” defensive tackle Jared Odrick said.
Of the six AFC teams that are 4-6 (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Cleveland, Oakland and Tennessee), the Ravens and Steelers would seem to be the greatest threats to Miami.
The Dolphins own head-to-head tiebreakers against the Chargers and Browns, and the Titans — who are without starting quarterback Jake Locker for the rest of the season — face three consecutive road games (Oakland, Indianapolis, Denver).
Oakland has a difficult schedule (including road games at Dallas, San Diego and the Jets) and home against Kansas City and Denver.
The Ravens hold the tiebreaker against Miami based on their win against the Dolphins, and the Dolphins and Steelers meet Dec. 8 in Pittsburgh.
Though the Jets are tied with the Dolphins, they’re reeling from a 37-14 drubbing at Buffalo and have been outscored by 85 points this season. The Dolphins, conversely, have been outscored by just 12 points.
“We’re not going to be a playoff team until they say we’re in the playoffs,” Jets guard Willie Colon said. “Right now, we just lost to the [expletive] Bills.”
Here are the remaining schedules for the Dolphins, Jets, Ravens and Steelers:
• Dolphins: Carolina, at Jets, at Steelers, Patriots, at Bills, Jets.
• Jets: at Baltimore, Dolphins, Oakland, at Carolina, Cleveland, Miami.
• Ravens: Jets, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, at Detroit, New England, at Cincinnati.
• Steelers: at Cleveland, at Baltimore, Miami, Cincinnati, at Green Bay, Cleveland.
Meanwhile, several positives emerged from Sunday’s 20-16 win against San Diego. Among them:
• The running game, held to a franchise-low 2 yards against Tampa Bay, generated 104 on 5.5 per carry.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said this is the best he has seen from Daniel Thomas in producing yards after contact. Thomas had 57 yards on 10 carries.
• Though the Dolphins allowed four sacks, the offensive line played well considering the unit was without three starters — Mike Pouncey, Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.
“They hung in there,” coach Joe Philbin said. “Didn’t have a lot of mental mistakes.”
Undrafted rookie Sam Brenner started at left guard and played 61 of the Dolphins’ 66 offensive snaps. Why did Brenner get the start over veteran Danny Watkins and third-round pick Dallas Thomas?
“We’ve been keeping our eye on Sam,” Philbin said. “Thomas has been getting most of his work at tackle. Brenner gets the vast majority of his reps at guard. He has been progressing very well.”
Nate Garner played well at center in place of Pouncey, who missed the game reportedly because of a gall bladder illness. “We’re very fortunate to have a guy like Nate Garner,” Philbin said.
Also key: Right tackle Tyson Clabo has improved after a dreadful first two months. “His pass sets have been better,” Philbin said.
• The Dolphins collected three fourth-quarter sacks (Jared Odrick, Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon). And rookie Dion Jordan — who logged 22 snaps — generated two quarterback hurries and “did a very good job” covering Chargers tight end Antonio Gates a few times, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said.
One problem that cannot seem to be fixed, at least not yet, is Ryan Tannehill’s inability to consistently connect with Mike Wallace on deep balls.
“We underthrew him on a touchdown pass that we can’t do,” Sherman said. “We needed those points.”
On passes thrown at least 20 yards in the air, Tannehill has completed only 3 of the 16 intended for Wallace and 9 of 34 overall this season, including 0 for his past 6.
Sherman said Tannehill and Wallace have worked on deep balls after practice, and “we’ve got to get them on the same page. The two of them have to come to an understanding how that’s going to work.”
Though Wallace’s numbers were modest Sunday (four catches for 39 yards), Sherman said: “Mike had a tremendous game. He ran his routes very disciplined. He was open on a number of occasions. Sometimes there were protection issues. He had a tremendous impact on the game because he changed how they played us.”
Sherman said Wallace is still dealing with “a leg issue” — a hamstring specifically.